The new dog, a year-old retriever named Woody, came to Northern California just before New Year's. He arrived midway through a weeklong assault of drenching storms, levee watches, flooding, mudslides and lots of worry.
Woody loves to swim, but the rains confused him. He had spent his entire young life in drought-parched Texas and had little experience with rain. He would stand under the patio roof and look out with uncertainty, and he needed encouragement to take care of his business in the rain.
Four months after his arrival, he is no longer unsure about rain. He takes his time now like the rest of my dogs, getting his back wet and his paws plenty muddy before heading into the house.
Mud is the constant nemesis of all dog lovers, and it's never so bad as in the spring.
The best way to keep floors clean is to never let them get dirty. And that means catching those muddy paws before they come inside. Here are some tips:
-- Use mats. Put washable mats both inside and outside the door. A small door mat can be jumped over, so go for something larger, at least during the rainy season. The wider the area of matting, the more chance you have of every paw hitting the mat at least once.
Outside the door to my back yard (currently known as The Swamp), I have a 3-foot-by-5-foot black industrial mat I bought at a warehouse store. It catches lots of mud, and it hoses off easily. The more attractive and traditional decorative door mat sits right on top of it, with another decorative mat on the inside of the threshold. Outside the dog door, the entrance is covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting. Just inside is another mat.
-- Teach dogs to wait for wiping. It's not difficult to teach a dog to wait on the mat for a paw cleaning. If you're patient and positive, you'll be able to teach your pet to offer each paw in turn and stand patiently while you towel it off. One of my dogs used to be so good about this that he'd lift each paw by name: "Front. Now the other. Back. Other."
-- Save your old towels. When towels get too ratty for guests to see, save them for use with your pets. Old towels are great for wiping paws, drying fur and even swiping a muddy paw print off the floor. My old towels have endured years of hot water and bleach. They're ugly, but they still do the job. You can also find super-absorbent towels and mitts made specifically for wiping paws, but I've always found old towels to be more than up to the task. If you do need to buy paw wipes, check prices on shop towels.
-- Never let a mess settle in. If a muddy paw gets past you, don't delay your cleanup. While this isn't such a hard-and-fast rule for such easy-clean surfaces as tile and hardwoods, it's an absolute commandment when it comes to carpets. Keep cleaning supplies well-stocked and at hand, and be sure to jump on a muddy paw print -- or any pet mess -- before it can set.
With 16 paws in my household, keeping on top of mud is a must. What the mats don't catch, I do, and the house stays cleaner for my diligence -- especially with young Woody in the family now, delighting in every mud puddle he finds.
Into the bath!
Dogs should be bathed as often as is necessary to keep them clean-smelling. Weekly isn't too often, as long as you use a coat conditioner.
Your dog should be brushed before bathing because mats and tangles, once wet, can only be cut out. Working a little corn starch into a mat and cutting through it lengthwise will make it easier to break up and tease out.
On warm days, dogs can be bathed outside. Otherwise, keeping towels at hand will help prevent too much mess in your indoor bathroom. Let your brushed dog relax while you set up the proper equipment and fill the tub. A bath mat will make your dog feel more comfortable by giving him something secure to stand on. You'll also need a spray nozzle. Some people rinse dogs by pouring dirty bathwater back over them, but that defeats the purpose of bathing a dog.
Don't use more soap than is necessary to make it easier to rinse your dog completely clean. A forced-air pet dryer or blow-dryer set on cool will shorten the time needed for drying.
Helping cats with canine intruder
Q: My husband and I have a pair of young cats, two sisters we adopted together as kittens. They are just over a year old. My mother is going to have to give up her dog as part of her move to a place where she can get more care.
Toby is an 8-year-old cockapoo, and he's coming to live with us. He's a sweet little dog and is fine with cats. My mom had two cats when she adopted Toby, although both are now gone.
I don't know how our cats will like having their space invaded by a dog. We would like the transition to go as smoothly as possible. It's a difficult time for us all. Suggestions? -- I.T., via e-mail
A: Before the dog arrives, prepare the cats by setting up a "dog-free" zone for their dishes and litter box. One good way to do this is by choosing a spare bedroom or bathroom and getting a baby gate to put across the doorway. The cats will be able to come and go without any effort, but the dog won't be able to get over the barrier.
Make sure the cats are comfortable with the new arrangement before springing Toby on them. When he arrives, you'll be closing the door on their room so they can feel safe while getting used the sounds, smells and noises of the new dog.
Once the girls seem relaxed, open the door and put the baby gate up. Let the cats choose the level of interaction -- no forced introductions -- and don't worry if they decide to stay on their side of the baby gate for now. Put a line on Toby's collar so you can step on it if he decides to chase the cats. Curiosity is normal from the dog, but don't allow him to chase the cats, even in play.
Be patient. Chances are good that within a few weeks the cats will tolerate the dog, and they may even learn to enjoy having him around.
No 'bye-bye' to this birdie
Q: I have been watching a friend's cockatiel while she's overseas. I have a couple of short trips coming up myself and wonder how long is too long to leave the bird alone with food and water. The longest would be a long weekend, two nights gone. Is this OK? -- S.O., via e-mail
A: No, it's not. Ideally, the bird needs to be attended to twice daily, with once daily the bare minimum standard of care. You need to enlist a friend's help, call a pet sitter, or check with an avian veterinarian or reputable bird shop to find out if there are bird-boarding options in your area.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Incontinence? Call your vet
Urinary incontinence is often a health problem, not a behavioral one, which is why when a dog "springs a leak," your first call should be to your veterinarian.
Medical issues that can cause urinary incontinence include: infection in the urinary tract, typically a bladder infection; excessive consumption of water, perhaps from disease; weak bladder sphincter, especially common in female dogs; and spinal cord disease.
Diagnostic tests -- a urinalysis and urine culture, to start -- are essential when it comes to pinpointing a health issue. The urinalysis reveals cell types and biochemical elements in a pet's urine, while the culture isolates any bacteria growing in the urine. The bacterial species are identified and tested for their sensitivity to different antibiotics, with the end result being confirmation of the presence of infection and a list of appropriate antibiotics.
Working with your veterinarian will in many cases resolve this messy health problem.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
BY THE BOOK
Bored birds need something to do
Parrots are highly intelligent pets, and they can become sick, self-destructive or even aggressive if left with nothing to do but hang out in a cage.
In the wild, parrots spend their days foraging for food and maintaining relationships with their flock. As pets, their food is served in a bowl and their social lives are pretty limited. It's no wonder they become frustrated and act out.
Enter trick training, a great way to keep that bird brain busy and out of trouble. In "Parrot Tricks: Teaching Parrots With Positive Reinforcement" (Howell/Wiley, $20), longtime parrot experts Tani Robar and Diane Grindol help bird lovers teach their pets a wide variety of tricks. The end result: a happier bird and bird owner.
Trick training can save the lives of troubled birds and can make others much more content. This book is a great place to start building a better life for you and your parrot.
Tough case? Consider a veterinary specialist
While many, if not most, health issues a pet will face can be resolved by the animal's regular veterinarian, these days the number and variety of specialists available make consulting on tough cases a viable option. Your veterinarian should be open to referring you to a specialist or consulting one on your behalf, if your pet's condition warrants it.
A specialist will work only with the problem for which the animal has been referred, and then send you back to your own veterinarian for all other issues.
Becoming a veterinary specialist requires additional study in a two- to five-year residency program as well as a specific examination for each specialty. The result is certification over and above that required to achieve a degree in veterinary medicine.
Veterinary dermatologists, surgeons and internists such as cardiologists and oncologists are among the more common veterinary specialists working with companion animals.
Although not as many specialists exist in veterinary medicine as in human medicine, you may find a growing number in your community or within a short drive -- and more are likely to turn up in the future.
Many urban areas support independent specialists or specialty practices. But in less-populated areas you're more likely to find a full complement of specialists at the closest university that has a school or college of veterinary medicine.
For veterinarians already in practice, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners also offers specialty certification without a formal residency program. ABVP certifies specialists in avian practice, feline practice and companion animal practice (dogs and cats). -- G.S.
BY THE NUMBERS
Tops in small pets
Caption: A pet-industry survey shows ferret popularity to be falling.
Rabbits are now found in 43 percent of homes with small animals, up from 40 percent in 2000. Ferrets are down from 10 percent in 2000. Among those who keep small animals, the rabbit is the most popular (multiple answers allowed):
Type of small animal Percent kept
Guinea pig 20
Sometimes a dog just needs to howl
Howling is like group singing for dogs, or picking up the microphone at a canine karaoke machine.
The racket is a way for dogs scattered across a few miles and separated by fences to get in touch with their inner wolf and be part of something bigger ... a pack!
It used to be thought that sirens hurt the sensitive ears of dogs and that howling was a protest of pain. But now it's thought to be an instinctive group behavior. The right noise -- a siren or even the right notes on a musical instrument -- will get a dog lifting his nose to the sky, and once howling, other dogs just can't help but join in.
Some breeds are more prone to howling than others. The husky-type breeds seem to take to it naturally, as do hounds such as beagles and bassets, with their distinctive baying.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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